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It's not always easy to know who the real heroes are in a story.

Once upon a time Lance Armstrong was a sporting icon, a cancer survivor with seven Tour de France titles under his belt and an inspiration to millions.

London Sunday Times sports journalist David Walsh, the man who had tried for years to prove Armstrong was a drug cheat, was in the eyes of the cycling fraternity nothing but a "troll", an irritation to be dealt with.

In October the US Anti-Doping Agency published a report that resulted in Armstrong being stripped of his wins and given a lifetime ban from professional cycling.

Earlier this month Walsh was named Sports Journalist of the Year and Journalist of the Year at the inaugural British Journalism Awards for his 13-year investigation, part of which contributed directly to Armstrong's eventual downfall.

Now the real heroes are known, the whole story can be told.

"Like a cat pawing at a nest of mice, Lance Armstrong saw us journalists as part of a game," writes Walsh in his riveting new book, Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong.

"There were those, the majority, who were happy to scurry along hailing him as the champion cat," he continues.

"And there were those who said, 'Hey, wait a minute.' This species were known as trolls. I lived and worked among the trolls and it's fair to say that, some of the time at least, Lance viewed me as the mayor of Troll City."

In what often reads like a thriller, Walsh recounts the relentless cat-and-troll game between Armstrong and himself as he endeavoured to prove what was all too apparent to him and a handful of likeminded journalists during Armstrong's first victorious Tour in 1999.

"We knew the '99 Tour de France was ushering in the reign of a great pretender but were powerless to do much about it," he writes.

As Walsh told his sports editor at the time: "I think it stinks. This guy has ridden the Tour de France four times before now, ridden nine mountain stages and not been anywhere near.

"Suddenly he's an outstanding climber." Few would listen. "Armstrong wins the Tour de France but you're sure he cheated, so that's not much fun," Walsh wrote.

"The world goes all happy clappy and you stand there with a face like a slapped backside, shaking your head slowly."

Walsh wouldn't be dissuaded, and over the next 13 years incurred the wrath of Armstrong and his supporters with his persistent questions about doping - so much so that Armstrong, who in a conversation with another journalist called Walsh a "f...ing little troll", and restricted media access to any journalist who dared to associate with him.

But journalists such as Pierre Ballester, who together with Walsh wrote LA Confidentiel, the 2004 French bestseller which would result in lawsuits from Armstrong descending on their heads and yet would be crucial to the USADA findings against Armstrong, stood by his side.

Other heroes, such as former Armstrong assistant Emma O'Reilly, "clean" Festina team member Christophe Bassons and the feisty, honest Betsy Andreu, the wife of US Postal team rider Frankie Andreu, have crucial parts to play in Armstrong's eventual downfall.

As do the villains such as Armstrong's doctor Michele Ferrari the "high priest of performance enhancement" and US Postal's sporting director Johan Bryneel, who threatened a fellow journalist friend of Walsh with the words: "You're a f...ing traitor, you're with Walsh. You come in here to talk to riders and you ride with Walsh. We know your game."

Ultimately, Seven Deadly Sins is a masterpiece of investigative journalism and an object lesson in how to write it: gripping, intelligent, detailed and full of humanity.